THE ACCIDENT THAT GAVE US WOODPULP PAPER





HOW A MIGHTY MODERN INDUSTRY OWED ITS BEGINNING TO GOTTFRIED KELLER AND

A WASP



BY PARKE F. HANLEY



On the day when President Wilson was inaugurated to his second term,

this country had its fiftieth anniversary of the introduction of

wood-pulp. Were it not for a series of lucky chances that developed into

opportunity, this wood-pulp anniversary might have remained for our

children's children.



Have you ever given thought to the accidentalism of many great

discoveries? The element of haphazard is generally combined with a

series of coincidences. Looking back over the developments that led to

gigantic contributions to our civilization, one cannot fail to be struck

by the coordination of events. Apparently there always has been a

conspiracy of natural forces to compel men of thought and

resourcefulness to add another asset to progress.



Your earliest school readers have been full of these--for instance, Watt

and his steam-kettle, Franklin and his kite. Now the youngsters are

reading that the Wrights derived a fundamental principle of

aviation--the warping-tip--from the flight of crows. With the awe comes

a disquieting thought. How far back should we be were it not for these

fortuitous circumstances?



Among all the great things that have been given to the world in the last

three-quarters of a century, few measure beside the wood-pulp industry.

With its related trades and sciences, it is comprised within the ten

great activities of mankind. In manufacture and distribution, it employs

an army matching in size the Russian battle hordes. Its figures of

investment and production are comparable to the debts of the great war.



Yet it remained for a wasp and Gottfried Keller to bring us out of the

era of rag paper. Together, they saved us from a retardation of

universal thought. Therefore, let us consider the agents.



First, the wasp. She was one of a family of several hundreds, born in

the Hartz Mountains in the year 1839. When death claimed most of her

relatives at the end of the season allotted as the life of a wasp, this

survivor, a queen wasp, became the foundress of a family of her own.

She built her nest of selected wood-fibers, softened them to a pulp with

her saliva, and kneaded them into cells for her larvæ. Her family came

forth in due course, and their young wings bore them out into the world.

The nest, having served its purpose, was abandoned to the sun and the

rain.



Maeterlinck, who attributes emotions to plants and souls to bees, might

wrap a drama of destiny about this insect. She would command a leading

place in a cast which included the butterfly that gave silk to the

world, the mosquito that helped to prove the germ theory of disease, and

the caterpillar that loosed the apple which revealed the law of

gravitation to Sir Isaac Newton.



As to Keller, he was a simple German, by trade a paper-maker and by

avocation a scientist of sorts. One day in 1840--and this marks the

beginning of the accidents--returning home from his mill, he trod upon

the abandoned nest. Had not the tiny dwelling been deserted, he probably

would have cherished nothing but bitter reflections about the

irascibility of wasps. As it was, he stooped to see the ruin he had

wrought.



The crushed nest lay soft in his hand, soft and pliable, and yet tough

in texture. It was as soft as his own rag-made paper. It was not paper,

and yet it was very much like paper. Crumbling It in his fingers, he

decided that its material was wood-pulp.



Keller was puzzled to know how so minute a creature had welded wood into

a paperlike nest. His state of mind passed to interest, thence to

speculation, and finally to investigation. He carried his problem and

its possibilities to his friend, Heinrich Voelter, a master mechanic.

Together they began experiments. They decided to emulate the wasp. They

would have to granulate the wood as she had done. The insect had

apparently used spruce; they used spruce under an ordinary grindstone.

Hot water served as a substitute for the wasp's salivary juices.



Their first attempts gave them a pulp astonishingly similar to that

resulting from the choicest rags. They carried the pulp through to

manufacture, with a small proportion of rags added--and they had paper.

It was good paper, paper that had strength. They found that it possessed

an unlooked-for advantage in its quick absorption of printing-ink.



Have you followed the chain of accidents, coincidences, and fortunate

circumstances? Suppose the wasp had not left her nest in Keller's path.

What if he had been in haste, or had been driven off by the queen's

yellow-jacketed soldiers? What if he had no curiosity, if he had not

been a paper-maker, if he had not enjoyed acquaintance with Voelter?

Wood-pulp might never have been found.



Leaving Gottfried Keller and Voelter in their hour of success, we find,

sixteen years afterward, two other Germans, Albrecht and Rudolf

Pagenstecher, brothers, in the export trade in New York. They were

pioneering in another field. They were shipping petroleum to Europe for

those rising young business men, John D. and William Rockefeller. They

were seeking commodities for import when their cousin, Alberto

Pagenstecher, arrived from the fatherland with an interesting bit of

news.



"A few weeks ago, in a paper-mill in the Hartz, I found them using a new

process," he said. "They are making paper out of wood. It serves.

Germany is printing its newspapers on wood-pulp paper."



To his cousins it seemed preposterous that wood could be so converted,

but Alberto was convincing. He showed them Voelter's patent grants and

pictures of the grinders. The Pagenstechers went to Germany, and when

they returned they brought two of the grinders--crude affairs devised

for the simple purpose of pressing wood upon a stone. They also brought

with them several German mechanics.



A printer in New York, named Strang, had already secured the United

States rights of the new process. He was engaged in the manufacture of

calendered paper, and, therefore, had no occasion to use wood-pulp; so

he was willing to surrender the patents in exchange for a small

interest.



The Pagenstechers wanted water-power for their grinders, and they

located their first mill beside Stockbridge Bowl, in Curtisville, now

Interlaken, Massachusetts. On an outlay of eleven thousand dollars their

mill was built and their machinery installed. Two or three trials, with

cotton waste added to the ground wood, gave them their paper. Their

first product was completed on the 5th of March, 1867.



It was a matter of greater difficulty to dispose of the stock. The trade

fought against the innovation. Finally Wellington Smith, of the near-by

town of Lee, Massachusetts, was persuaded to try it. Rag-paper had been

selling at twenty-four cents a pound. Smith's mill still exhibits the

first invoice with the Pagenstechers, which shows the purchase of

wood-paper at eleven cents.



The paper was hauled to Lee in the dead of night, for Smith's

subordinates wished to spare him from the laughter of his fellow

millmen. It was sold, and proved successful, and the Pagenstechers were

rushed with orders. They built a second mill in Luzeme, New York, but

abandoned it soon afterward for the greater water-power to be obtained

at Palmer's Falls, where now stands the second largest mill in the

United States.



Manufacturers tumbled over themselves to get the benefit of the new

process. The originators in this country held the patent rights until

1884, letting them out on royalties until that time. With each new plant

the price of paper fell, until at one period it sold at one and a half

cents a pound.



Trial had proved that spruce was the only suitable wood for the pulp.

Until 1891 rags were combined in about one-quarter proportion. Then it

was found that other coniferous woods might be used to replace the rags,

after being submitted to what is called the sulfite process. In this

treatment small cubes of wood, placed in a vat, have their resinous

properties extracted, and the wood is disintegrated. A combination of

ground and sulfite wood makes the paper now used for news-print.



As has been told, the primary advantage of the wood-pulp paper was its

immediate absorption of ink. This made possible much greater speed in

printing, and led in turn to the development of the great modern

newspaper and magazine presses, fed by huge rolls of paper, which they

print on both sides simultaneously. These wonderful machines have now

reached the double-octuple stage--monsters capable of turning out no

less than five thousand eight-page newspapers in a single minute, or

three hundred thousand in an hour.



With the evolution from the flat-bed to the web or rotary presses there

came further development in typesetting-machines--the linotype, the

monotype, and others. With paper and presses brought to such

simplification, newspapers have sprouted in every town, almost every

village, and the total number of American periodicals is counted by tens

of thousands. There are magazines that have a circulation of more than a

million copies weekly. The leading daily newspapers in New York print

anywhere from one hundred thousand copies to four times as many, and

they can put extra editions on the streets at fifteen-minute intervals.



The aggregate circulation of daily newspapers in the United States is

close to forty million copies. Weekly newspapers and periodicals reach

fifty millions, and monthly publications mount almost to one hundred

millions; and all this would be impossible without wood-pulp paper.



The annual production of wood-pulp in the United States and Canada is

estimated by Albrecht Pagenstecher, the survivor of the innovators, to

be worth nearly five hundred millions of dollars. Take into

consideration the hundreds of thousands employed in the mills, the men

who cut and bring in the raw product, the countless number in the

printing, publishing, and distributing trades. Then hark back to the

accident that put the wasp's nest under the toe of Gottfried Keller!



* * * * *



(_Providence Journal_)



One zinc-etching illustration reproducing an old wood-cut of the ship,

with the caption, "The Savannah, First Steamship That Crossed the

Ocean."





TENNIS AND THE IMMORTAL SOUL THE AIM facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Feedback